You Need a BHAG to Raise BIG Money

Look carefully at every nonprofit you consider really successful.  I bet they each have a clear vision they are working to achieve. And I bet it’s something impressive. Maybe they’re working to eliminate illiteracy in their community, or find homes for every homeless animal. Whatever their vision it’s something that people can easily imagine in their minds, understand the impact, and get behind.

It’s called a BHAG.

A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) goes beyond a nonprofit’s reason for existence. Your mission statement may express why the organization was created, but a big vision excites people with its big impact.  I like to say ‘play big or go home!’ I mean, if a nonprofit exists, it should have as big an impact as possible. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if your organization it isn’t going to do something very worthwhile?

It doesn’t matter what kind of services you offer, a BHAG will set you apart from the mediocre nonprofits in town. Your nonprofit will be the one in your community that’s up to something special and attracts all the movers and shakers to serve on the Board and support fundraising campaigns.  Your BHAG will make you different in the donors’ minds.  Instead of being one of dozens of boring nonprofits, you’ll be the fresh, exciting one doing something that really matters.

A BHAG is a goal so bold that it stretches your nonprofit to work toward it and reach it. Your staff get excited about it and work together to make it happen. You may have to change the way you are doing some things to become more efficient or more effective. Your big vision should give you goosebumps when you talk about it with others. It may event scare you a little. And its impact will be profound and significant in the community, changing many lives.  

Here are some specific reasons you should create and commit to a BHAG:

  • A big vision attracts supporters.  A BHAG is very interesting to donors. No one wants to support something mediocre. And people don’t want to get involved with something that even remotely looks like a sinking ship! Instead, donors love a group that is passionately championing a cause and changing the status quo.  People like helping make something magical and wonderful happen, especially when it has long-lasting impact. When your BHAG sets peoples’ hearts on fire, they will give and likely give big gifts to help your big vision become a reality.
  • A big vision creates the foundation for strategic and operational plans. One of my favorite stories is from “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice meets the Cheshire Cat and asks him for help. “Where do you want to go?” the Cat asks.  “I don’t much care,” says Alice. “Then any road will get you there” responds the Cat.  It’s the same thing with planning.  Without a BHAG to shine a light on the destination you want to reach, it’s going to be tough to get there.  You could wander aimlessly as an organization, dabbling in programs, helping a few people along the way, but never really having much of an impact. Your BHAG will provide the destination so that you can create the roadmap to get there. It sets the stage for the plans that are needed to fulfill the vision.
  • A big vision shifts you from being reactive to being proactive. When you know very clearly where your nonprofit is heading and you create plans to get there, you know exactly what to do every day.  Gone are the days when you spend your time putting out fires. A clear vision gives you a yardstick to measure your activities by.  For example, if your BHAG is to eliminate hunger in your community, then you can look at each item on your “To Do” list and ask yourself “Does this get us closer to eliminating hunger?” If the answer is yes, you do the task.  If not, mark it off your list because you don’t need to spend your time on it.

Your BHAG should be compelling. When you talk about it in the community, people should start asking lots of questions to better understand it (this usually indicates their interest in supporting it!).  Your big vision should be easy to explain and easy to understand. You shouldn’t have to work hard to describe what you’re trying to do.

Most importantly, everyone in a leadership position in your organization, both staff and Board, should participate in creating the vision and supporting it. If you are missing consensus about your BHAG, go back and try again.  You don’t want any bad apples pulling everyone else down while you’re working to achieve something of this importance.

Ready to create your BHAG?  It’s not so hard to do. Gather up your nonprofit’s leaders and key people and think about the biggest thing you’d like to accomplish as an organization.  Start by brainstorming a few ideas. Talk them over and choose one to work toward. Decide that you’re willing to commit to it and make it happen, knowing that it could take time and effort and money to accomplish. And then do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Your BHAG will get you moving on the path to becoming one of the hottest nonprofits in town!

Want more help with a BHAG? Join me for a new training called “5 Simple Secrets of Fully-Funded Nonprofits” on July 15. You’ll learn what it takes to raise all the money you need to fund your BHAG. Get all the info and register at

Four Steps to Engaging Your Board

By: Sandy Rees

I have a theory about nonprofit Boards. Most small nonprofits have people on their Boards who don’t understand what they’ve said “yes” to. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do as a Board member, and in the absence of knowledge, they do whatever looks fun or familiar.

Board Meeting
That leaves the door wide open for them to get too involved in the day-to-day operations and micromanage, or step too far back and do absolutely nothing, placing way too much trust in the staff to make everything work. Neither scenario is healthy for the organization and can lead to a number of problems, which impede the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

All the while, the staff is looking to Board members to help them move the nonprofit forward, expecting them to help raise money, lead strategic planning, and lots more things that Boards are supposed to do.

The problem is that the staff usually knows more about what a Board is supposed to do than the Board does. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Staff members typically attend way more trainings and workshops than Board members do.  They read newsletters and blogs. And they have a greater understanding of their role versus the Board’s role.

It’s easy to forget that most Boards simply haven’t had the chance to learn about their job. And they don’t know what they don’t know.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. Educate them.

If your Board doesn’t know what their job is, you’ve got to teach them. You probably know more about what they need to do than anyone else, so it’s up to you to get the ball rolling.

People aren’t suddenly endowed with knowledge just because they say “yes” to being on a Board. Stop expecting them to know everything they need to know to do their job.  Most people want to do the right thing, but if they don’t know what that is, there’s the potential for problems, miscommunication, and more.

Don’t blame them, shame them, or guilt them. Just help them understand their role and set them up for success.

I remember playing the blame game with my Board when I was a Development Director. I’d attend workshops where the presenter would tell us that our Board should be helping with fundraising. Then I’d go back and expect Board members to rise to the occasion. What I didn’t understand was that they didn’t know how. Some of them were flat out scared to ask anyone for money, and most of them were resistant to the idea.

So, how do you get your Board on board?


  • Get them some training. One day a year spent in learning or refreshing themselves about their job can be a day very well spent. If you can’t carve out a whole day, spend 10 minutes at each Board meeting going over one of their basic roles.


  • Inspire them.  Share with them some heart-warming stories about the lives that are being changed by the work your nonprofit is doing. Don’t assume they already know.  If they only show up to a monthly Board meeting, they’re likely to forget a lot in between those meetings. Help them remember.


  • Treat your Board as individuals. Think of them and work with them one at a time. When you think of them as a group, it’s easy to generalize, which doesn’t help anything. Remember: One size does NOT fit all! This is why you won’t get 100% response when you ask your Board to sell tickets to your event. Not everyone feels comfortable doing it and when people lack confidence in their ability to do a task, they won’t do it.


  • Work in baby steps. Give them small tasks to complete instead of big projects. Even though they are the leaders of your nonprofit, they are volunteers and may not have large amounts of time to give you. Ask them to complete small tasks and you’ll be much more likely to get the result you want.

It’s easy to get impatient or resentful toward your Board. You look to them for leadership and guidance, and chances are good they will disappoint you from time to time. Just remember that you can accept the current situation and be frustrated with your Board, or you can take steps to change it.


3 Indicators That Your Fundraising is Stuck

By: Sandy Rees

One of the hardest things we have to do sometimes is to admit we’re stuck. (Hey, it happens to ALL of us from time to time.)

Being stuck means you can’t see possibilities anymore. You’re confused. You’re frustrated. And you need someone to help you get out of it.

Education child Mathematics Class
It’s kind of like being in quicksand – struggle and you’ll go deeper. You need someone to throw you a lifeline and pull you out.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to be stuck. It’s a slippery slope and it happens so gradually that you don’t notice it until you feel the confusion and frustration.

Here are three things you’ll either say or think that indicate your fundraising is stuck:

1. “We tried that.” These are probably the three most deadly words in all of fundraising. There’s a tiredness in these words, and often people have already given up when they say them.  I know that what really happened is they did something without thinking it all the way through and without putting full effort into it, and got lackluster results. AND, they aren’t willing to own their part in the disappointment.

2. “I don’t have time.” Time is our most precious resource. Spend it wisely and you’ll get amazing results. Spend it reacting to what other people want, and you’ll never get around to doing the things you really should be doing. We all get 24 hours every day to do what we need to do. Getting things done is a matter of priorities and focus. “I don’t have time” is what people say when they don’t want to do something.

3. “I don’t know any rich people.”  There’s a common dream that one of your donors will win the lottery and give you so much money that you won’t need to fundraise any more. It’s unrealistic. And ridiculous. You already know rich people – they’re rich in money and relationships and love and lots of other things that matter. Unless you get out from behind your computer and go spend some time with them, you’ll never develop the relationship you need in order for them to want to support your nonprofit. Ms. Betty Bigbucks is not going to magically show up in your office one day with a big, fat check for you.

If you’ve believed any of these three at some point, it’s okay. Like I said, we’ve all been stuck.

But like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.”

So, here’s what you need to know: These are really just excuses that you’ve used to let yourself off the hook. You are a smart, committed person, and you are capable of so much more.  You don’t need excuses. What you need is some inspiration.

Spend some time getting reconnected to the mission of your nonprofit and why it matters to you. Then put a plan together for the next 60 days, and go work the plan.

You can have excuses or you can have results. What’s it going to be?

Stop Being the Best Kept Secret in Town

By: Sandy Rees

Raising money requires awareness. If people don’t know you’re there, they can’t support you.

No one wakes up in the morning and randomly picks a nonprofit to give to. People give to charities they’ve heard of and trust.

An image of a man making a public speech.
The way to generate buzz is to get in front of people who are likely to want to support your work. In other words, you have to spread the word about the work you’re doing. You have to be proactive about it. Don’t wait for people to find you. You have to go out and find them.
One tried and true method for spreading the word about the work your organization does (and building support for your mission at the same time) is public speaking. It’s a great way to let people know what your nonprofit does, and fights the “best-kept-secret-in-town” syndrome.

Here are three steps to ensuring you get the biggest results from your speaking gigs:

1. Create a powerful 20-30 minute presentation. No one wants to hear a boring speaker. And there’s no doubt in my mind that you have amazing things to share. So, here’s a way to put together a fantastic presentation that will have audiences genuinely interested and eager to find out how they can help:

  • Start with a whiplash statistic to get their attention. Something like this: “1 in every 8 people in our community will go hungry today” or “Every day in our town, over 15 perfectly loving cats and dogs are euthanized.” This stat helps set up the problem that your nonprofit is here to fight.
  • Next, share a story about someone who’s life has been changed (or saved) by the work your nonprofit does. Tell it using a “before and after” format – tell what life was like before your nonprofit helped, and what life is like now.
  • Finally, share a Call to Action with your audience. Tell them how they have the power to join your nonprofit in changing more lives by giving, volunteering, or something else. Ask them to sign up to learn more about the work your nonprofit is doing by giving you their email address (so you can communicate more with them later).

2. Find places where you can share your powerful presentation. Start with local civic groups (Rotary, Kiwanis, Civitan, Lions, etc.). Your local library or chamber of commerce probably has a list of clubs that meet in your area. Email the club President or Program person and ask to speak to the group. Most of these groups have weekly programs and they’re always looking for speakers. Also reach out to local church groups (Womens groups, Mens groups, Sunday School classes, etc.) for the opportunity to speak.

Announce on social media and in your newsletter that you’re looking for places to speak. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities that will show up just because you ask!

Consider videoing your presentation and sharing the link on your website. This is an easy way to share with lots of people! Ask your Board, volunteers, staff, Facebook followers, and everyone else to share the link with their friends. If you have a really good presentation, your video will likely get lots of views.

3. Track your results. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Keep a log of the dates and places where you speak, the number of people in the audience, and what comes of it (people who ask to volunteer, immediate donations, offers for additional speaking opportunities, etc.). Over time, you’ll see the tangible benefit of the time and energy you’ve invested in spreading the word.

You need supporters in order to fulfill your mission and change lives. I challenge you to set a goal of one speaking gig per week so you can build momentum for your cause and stop being the best kept secret in town.

Ten Tips for Building a Better Board

By: Sandy Rees


Everyone wants a high-functioning Board. Yet few know how to make it happen.

Helpful Tips
At the AFP conference in San Antonio, I had the privilege of hearing Simone Joyeaux present a session on Boards. I thoroughly enjoyed it (she’s an entertaining speaker!) and I took some great notes. Here’s the summary of what I caught so you can learn with me.

1. Board member: You can’t be chicken and be an effective Board member.  Don’t be dysfunctionally polite. Your silence is unacceptable. Everyone needs to have the courage to voice their opinion, even when it goes against the rest of the group’s opinion.

2. There’s a difference between what a Board can do and what a Board member can do. Boards do governance. Board members do work. The Board as a whole can’t do fundraising. Individual Board members can do fundraising.

3. No single Board member has authority over another. No individual Board member can act on behalf of the Board unless specifically given that authority.

4. A Board can only do governance as a group. The Board is a collective and does governance in a meeting. Committees don’t do governance. The Board as a whole does governance.

5. Here’s a question a Board should ask itself: How do we govern and pay attention without micromanaging and driving staff away?

6. Both staff and Board are responsible for knowing what good governance is. Staff – learn more about governance so you can partner with the Board and support them. But don’t demand that they know how to be good at their job if they’ve never learned.

7. People don’t buy into what they don’t create. Get Board members involved in creating the vision and the plans.

8. There is no give or get. Every Board member should make a monetary gift and help raise money.

9. Committees make recommendations and engage the full Board. Ask at the end of a committee meeting: Do we have anything to report?

10. Our lives are built around prevention and intervention. How does your Board do these?

Want more help with your Board?

Workshop: “Engage Your Board. For Good.” June 11, 2014, Hickory, NC. More info/register at

Board retreat: Let us deliver our “Board Magic” workshop for your next retreat. We help your Board understand and embrace their roles/responsibilities, help them find their comfort zone with fundraising, and set the stage for your coming year. More info at

Do-It-Yourself: Conduct your own Board retreat using Sandy’s materials with a Board Training in a Box. Everything you need, including DVDs, workbooks, and toys. More info at

Where’s your new place?

By: Sandy Rees

I saw a quote this morning on Facebook from Dani Johnson and it really struck me.  Here it is:

You CAN NOT get to a NEW place unless you LEAVE the OLD one first!

So true.

Many times, we get excited about a new dream or vision for our organization, or even a new fundraising strategy we want to try.  We want to make it happen. Sometimes we close our eyes and visualize how it will be. But here’s the problem:

If we don’t take action, nothing happens. Action is required to make our nonprofit dreams a reality.

You know what’s key to taking action? A plan.

Taking action just to get into movement isn’t enough.  You must be moving toward a specific goal.

This week I have a video for you to talk more about creating a plan for yourself.

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It’s not enough to just have a new place. Make it BIG enough that it’s worth working toward.

We have a small-group VIP opportunity coming up that’s going to be a game changer for 6 nonprofits. If you’re ready to put a year’s plan together to help you reach your big goals, call us at 865-657-9915 or email us at for all the details.

The 3 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid in Your Next Appeal

Writing and mailing fundraising letters is a popular fundraising strategy for nonprofit organizations. Some have said lately that direct mail is dead, but it’s not true. Direct mail is still the most cost-effective way to reach out to the bulk of your donors to ask for their support.

Being successful in raising money through the mail is both art and science. You must write a compelling letter that moves the donor to make a gift. And you must send the letter to people are most likely to respond to it.

It’s a letter right? How hard can this be?         Advertising Direct Mail Working Concept

It’s harder than it looks.  Many nonprofits plow into sending a letter without thinking during their homework.  Their letter doesn’t resonate with the reader and the results are dismal.

I’ve talked to LOTS of people over the years who have told me their sad story about how they tried direct mail and it just didn’t work. (I can usually guess exactly what they did and didn’t do.)  Some of them invested thousands of dollars hoping for a huge return, and got only a few donations for their efforts.

First, realize that people are busy and your letter is an interruption in their day.  They will decide in a matter of seconds whether or not to open the envelope and in a few more seconds they will decide whether or not to give.  Your letter must grab their attention, tell a story, and ask for a gift. If you do that well, you’ll get what you want – a gift.

Second, understand that they won’t read the entire letter.  They’ll skim.  So you have to hit the main points early and often.

So, in an effort to keep anyone in my tribe from making this mistake in the future, I’m sharing the 3 biggest and most common mistakes made in direct mail.

1. Picking the wrong list. Don’t mail to a list of names from certain zip codes, like the ones where all the “rich people” in town live, thinking that you’re going to get a great return on investment. In fact, even when you choose the list correctly, you may only get a 1% response. Breaking even on acquiring new donors is the best you can hope for, and that’s when you mail to the right list.

2. Sending a boring letter. Nobody purposefully writes and sends a boring letter.  Yet if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can happen.  Your letter needs emotionally grip the reader’s heart. It needs to tell a great story. It needs to establish credibility. And it has to include a direct call to action. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

3. Trying to do it yourself to save money. If you want to raise money through the mail, get some help from someone who knows how to do it. There are lots of places where you can derail the train if you aren’t careful. Why not get the help you need and be certain of your success instead of chance it? A good copywriter can make the letter sizzle. A good mail house can save you money on postage. Use them.

If you’re planning to do a mailing this Fall as part of your year-end campaign, now is the time to start planning it. You’ll have plenty of time to get all the details right so your appeal will generate big bucks for you.

Want more help with direct mail? The Get Fully Funded system has a whole section on it, including creating a plan for your mailings, production schedule templates and samples, estimating costs and projecting revenue, choosing a mailing list, and writing the letter. Get all the details at

13 tips for productivity from the Nonprofit Blog Carnival

We all want to be more productive, right? Here’s the latest from the Nonprofit Blog Carnival, hosted most recently by Nancy Schwartz over at Getting Attention!

There are some great tools and bits of advice here. My favorite in the list is “You don’t have to work 100+ hours a week” from Natasha Golinsky.

Read the whole thing at

And if you need more help, remember that Chapter 1 in the Get Fully Funded system is all about getting a handle on your time, your priorities, and putting systems in place so you can set yourself up for successful fundraising. You can download chapter 1 for free here:

5 Tips for Creating Loyal Donors

By: Sandy Rees

Deeper relationships lead to increased giving. You already know that.

But did you know that these relationships also create loyal donors?

Loyalty Level Conceptual MeterPeople who feel connected with an organization see themselves as a part of the solution.  As long as the believe that “you + me = we” and we’re changing lives together, they’ll stick around for a long time.

Here are 5 tips that are critical for deepening those all-important relationships.

1. Spend more face time with your donors. This is the BEST way to get to know them. Take them to lunch, meet them for coffee, or find another way to spend time together. When you’re with them, put your radar on and tune in to them. Pay attention to what makes them smile and what peaks their curiosity. This is your chance to learn what makes them tick.

2. Increase donor-focused communications.  Relationships are KEY in raising money and in order to build them, you have to communicate. This means you need to be sending more interesting and relevant updates about the work your nonprofit is doing and telling stories about the outcomes you’re seeing. The key words here are interesting and relevant. 

If your updates aren’t interesting, your donor won’t read it, and if she doesn’t read it, it has zero impact.

3. Listen more, talk less.  As you spend time with your donors and get to know them, follow this simple rule – listen more, talk less.  If you do all the talking, how will you learn anything about your donor?  Ask open-ended questions and get your donor talking so you can find out about the deepest desires of their heart.  Find out why they care about your organization.  Learn what motivates them to write that check.  The more you understand, the better job you can do of matching them with opportunities to give that make their heart sing.

4. Help your donors feel special.  This is key!  Donors want to know that they made a difference. They want to belong to a group that is making change. And they want to be more than just “donor #5576” on your list. So, help them feel special.  Thank them warmly and sincerely for their gift.  Respond immediately to any questions they might have.  Go the extra mile to let them know the impact their gift has made.  Communicate with them often.  Get to know them and what they’re interested in.  Do whatever you have to do to build trust. Donors who feel they’re a part of something important, and feel appreciated and needed become quite loyal to your organization!

5. Ask them what they think. People LOVE to give their opinion!  So ask. Ask your donors what they think about the work your organization is doing.  Ask them for their thoughts on your strategic plan.  Ask for their advice on your upcoming fundraising campaign.  See who they think you should be talking to in the community.  Just ask (and ye shall receive!).

Foundations Give Away the Most Money (and Other Myths about Grants and Foundations)

Guest post by Kathie Kramer Ryan 

My favorite thing about foundations is that they exist to give money away. Program officers are paid to answer questions from potential grantees and share information about funding priorities. And when you receive a grant, the award letter stipulates the reporting schedule. Foundations are donors who tell you what they’re interested in, their process for considering a gift, and how they like to be stewarded. How great is that?  kkr

Less great is media focus on the largest grants given by the largest foundations. I’m always thrilled to see philanthropy in the news, but covering only the upper echelon of grant funding is misleading. Here are 3 foundation myths of which to be aware as you plan your grants strategy. 

Myth #1:  Foundations are the best source of charitable support because they give away the most money. 

Board members and other stakeholders (your CEO perhaps?) may believe you can raise your entire annual fundraising goal from foundations alone.

Reality:  If you step back and look at the big philanthropic picture, foundations are responsible for only a small sliver (between 10% and 15%) of total charitable donations in the U.S. each year. The vast majority of charitable giving (usually over 80%) comes from individuals. In fact, an additional portion of foundation giving is attributed to individuals since many foundations are family foundations—funded and guided by the interests of a single donor or family. 

Giving USA releases an annual state of philanthropy report in early summer each year, so keep an eye on their website for the latest figures. Also, here’s a good article on the 2012 figures from the Nonprofit Times

Myth #2:  Foundations are good sources of ongoing and unrestricted support. 

Reality:  There may have been a time when foundations gave out large, multi-year general operating support grants, but if so, those days are gone. More and more, foundations target support toward specific programs and/or help new projects get off the ground. Planning grants are another opportunity. 

Regarding ongoing support, foundations often prohibit organizations from receiving grants for more than three years in a row and sometimes less. Additionally, grant applications increasingly ask nonprofits to provide a sustainability plan for continuing a program after the grant period has ended.  

Myth #3:  Foundation grants are the quickest, easiest way to raise money.                Chalkboard - Facts And Myths

A lot of people seem to know a little something about foundations. You might run into the view that a foundation is like an ATM machine—you feed in your proposal and out comes a check.

Reality:  It’s seldom, if ever, this easy! Many many organizations are applying for the same grant money for which you are applying. To be successful with grants, consider these major gifts tactics:

  • Cultivate a relationship with the foundation
  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Have multiple meetings or site visits
  • After submitting a proposal, revise that proposal according to foundation feedback

As the foundation’s board (decision makers) may only meet four times per year, the process takes time. The entire cycle may take as little as 1-2 months. More common is 3-6 months, sometimes close to a year. Once your grant program is up and running and you have multiple proposals in the pipeline, you’ll get answers from different funders more often. But it takes time and elbow grease to build the pipeline.

Also keep in mind the significant amount of staff time required on the back end to manage grants. Grant money arrives on your doorstep with strings attached. If it’s a restricted grant, your finance staff must have the capability to track spending of grant funds so you can report back to the foundation on how funds were used. Your progress report’s narrative component will require program and development staff to gather data and prepare an analysis and conclusions about your work over the grant period.

Grants are certainly a viable funding stream but they are not a fix-all for your entire budget. For inspiration, check out Unlock Your Grant Writing Talent.

Please share some of your foundation fundraising experiences. What surprises have you encountered and what hurdles have you overcome?

Kathie Kramer Ryan has 15 years of frontline fundraising experience. A former development director, Kathie enjoys sharing her knowledge of nonprofit management and development with other fundraising professionals. You can learn more and find fundraising tips from Kathie at

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